"Little Fiction, Less Science"
Reading this book was a triumph of persistence, or perhaps stubbornness. Most of it is made up of thoroughly-researched tedium. Reading some passages I got the impression the author was saying "I spent 18 months in a library researching this stuff so I’m damn well putting it in the book."
I didn’t enjoy it at all. OK, it’s not as bad as the pile of unmitigated wank that was “Evolution” (a book so bad I felt like writing to the author demanding my money back), but it's still pretty poor. For a science-fiction book, it doesn’t feature a lot of SF. Most of it is set in the past. That doesn’t make it bad, but it's only in the actual science fiction realm that Baxter shines. There are a few glimmers here and there – mostly at the end of the book – but there are too few to make plodding through the rest of the dross worthwhile. 90% of the book is woeful guff like (from page 58):
"It was farming country. Much of the Roman diocese of Britain was like this. Nobody knew for sure how many people lived in Britain south of the Wall, but there were thought to be at least four million. Only perhaps one in ten lived in the villas and towns. The rest worked the land, where they cultivated wheat, barley oats, peas, beans, vegetables and herbs, and raised their cattle, sheep and goats. Many of them had worked this land for generations, since long before the coming of the Romans: Regina might have been travelling through the landscape of five centuries earlier."
See what I mean? It's not only not what you expect from a book calling itself Science Fiction, it's mostly not even fiction!
The end clearly sets things up for follow-ups. Looking back on it, that’s pretty annoying. It feels like this whole book, all 536 pages, was just the prologue to the actual books he wants to write. I don’t know what they’ll be like (and I don’t intend to find out) but this one wasn’t worth the effort.